The Parish Council
St Mary's Bay
St Mary in the Marsh
History of St Mary's Bay and St Mary in the Marsh
It is probable that there was a Saxon church on the site originally known as "Siwold's Circe". This was superseded after the Norman invasion by a stone built church with a splendid three tier tower of Kentish ragstone. The oldest parts of the church are about 1133 AD. more
St Mary's Bay was previously known as Jesson, likely named after Jesson Farm, built around 1820, in what is now Jefferstone Lane. The name Jesson was changed to St. Mary's Bay on 12 October 1935.
The origins of the village we now know as St Mary's Bay date from the early days of the nineteenth century. Prior to that time there was very little evidence of human habitation along the stretch of coast where the village now stands. A few distant farmsteads might have been visible from the road from Dymchurch to New Romney together with sheepfolds and looker’s huts – the shelters used by shepherds during lambing time.
Apart from the coast road, the main thoroughfare through St. Mary's Bay is Jefferstone Lane, which is derived from Jesson, the name of the original hamlet.
In 1804 the threat of invasion by the forces of Napoleon, prompted a line of defence in the shape of the Royal Military Canal and a chain of Martello Towers running from Aldeburgh in Suffolk to Seaford in Sussex.
Originally 103 towers were built between 1805 and 1812 to resist a potential invasion by Napoleon. They were built of brick, 13 foot thick on the seaward side, stood about 30 foot high and were equipped with a cannon on the roof. 74 were built along the Kent and Sussex coastlines from Folkestone to Seaford between 1805 and 1808, the other 29 to protect Essex and Suffolk.
Two of these towers, numbered 26 and 27, were the first brick-built structures to appear on the St. Mary's Bay shoreline. Tower 26 was built on the eastern side of the Gobsden Gut (now Cobsden Sewer), an outfall which ran into the sea near the present Dunstall Lane. Tower No. 27 was built approximately a quarter of a mile to the west.
Neither tower stands today. Damaged by sea erosion, No. 27 was demolished in 1841 and No. 26 lasted until 1871. The site of Tower 26 was on what is now the sea wall next to the car park opposite Dunstall Lane, roughly in front of where the toilet block now stands.
Jesson Farm, which was built around 1820 consisted of two houses, which are still standing and a number of outbuildings. They were close to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and were eventually demolished to make way for housing development.
The development of Jesson did not begin in earnest until the 1914-1918 War when the War Department built a camp. This was to house the Royal Flying Corps No.1 (Auxiliary) School of Gunnery amalgamated with No.1 (Observers) School of Aerial Gunnery.
The camp was intended to accommodate 1000 men, 300 NCOs, 400 officers and 400 women. It was estimated that from each intake 400 trained pilots would receive their wings.
Initially they used the landing strip on Romney Warren and part of the Littlestone Golf Course but soon moved to a proper aerodrome in Jesson Lane. This occupied 75 acres of land bounded by Jesson Lane and the Jefferstone and Cobsden Sewers.
Most boys who lived in Jesson would play football and cricket in school holidays. The pitch was any field that had not been ploughed up by the farmer. They moved from field to field and in the end stayed in one at the bottom of Jesson Lane, which was eventually taken over by the local council and turned into a sports ground. Jesson Cricket Club was formed, a square prepared for the wicket and a pavilion built. The club’s headquarters was at the Levin Club. A football club followed soon after.
In the mid 1930s Captain J.C. Allnatt was able to persuade the War Office to allow him to start a territorial unit as St. Mary's Bay holiday camp. In 1936 the Romney Marsh detachment of the Dover Cinque Ports Searchlight Company, Royal Engineers was born, and known as Allnett’s Terriers. To warrant a drill hall the unit needed to muster one hundred recruits, officers and NCOs being provided. The number was achieved in 1938 and a hall was duly provided. During the war dances were held there, especially during 1944 when the area was invaded by the Yanks. They livened up the place and the lorries ferried in girls from all over the Marsh.
The Development of the Holiday Camp
A few years before the First World War the London Boys’ Brigade held summer camps under canvas on William Body’s land behind Cobsden, just off Dunstall Lane. When the Royal Flying Corps’ Gunnery School was up for sale in 1920 the Boy’s Brigade purchased all the accommodation on the New Romney side of Jesson Lane excluding the homes of Mr. Colmer and Lt. Chapman.
Smuggling was rampant all around the coast, particularly in this area and in the early 1800s, a force, known as the Coast Blockade was formed in an attempt to combat the problem.
The force was made up of naval personnel. Sailors who were used to spending their working lives at sea now found themselves based ashore. Many were drawn from the lowest ranks, who carried out the most menial task below decks. In their new working environment the men were knocked into shape by the strictest discipline, a well known dispenser of which was Captain William McCullock RN, an officer widely known as ‘Flogging Joey’.
In the 1820s a Blockade Station, known as the St. Mary's Coastguard station [see map above] was built. Located near the high tide line, its site was on the sea side of the present Rugby Club chalets. There were nine single story cottages facing the sea, in the centre one of which lived the Chief Boatman.
The nearby parade ground, a large green with flagstaff was where the men would assemble before marching to their headquarters at Tower 27.
Around the turn of the century, with rumours of the proposed construction of a concrete wall, the fishermen moved their boats to the stretch of beach near the site of the old St. Mary's Coastguard near the Rugby Camp.
After many years’ work the new wall, built under the auspices of the Romney Marsh Level was completed in 1927. The wall was later extended to Littlestone. Part of the labour force was drawn from the depressed South Wales mining areas. In just three years the sea wall was in ruins having been breached in several places. A replacement was built.
The Environment Agency has recently (2011) reconstructed and strengthened the seawall at Dymchurch, the Dymchurch Wall, and improved defences at St. Mary's Bay, at a cost of over £25M.